Estia Greek Taverna: Man can't live on flaming cheese alone

It's Saturday night, and there's no mistaking Estia for anything but a Greek restaurant. Plates of stuffed grape leaves and saganaki float through the dining room. A belly dancer shakes her well-defined moneymaker. It all adds up to what we hope will be a remarkable night out.

Earlier this year, Zafeiris Zambiyadis, owner of Souvlaki Fast in Boca Raton, partnered with friend Thanasis "Tommy" Vasilakis to open Estia — named after Hestia, goddess of the hearth. It's a handsome dining room with white-washed walls, blue accents and a fireplace. If you've ever been to Greece, Estia will remind you of that time and place.

We take a table on the terrace underneath a ceiling fan that keeps things cool. After a too-long delay, we finally get a waiter to take our drink order for cool glasses of moschofilero ($9.95) and cold Mythos beer ($5).


Photos: Coolio show in South Beach

The menu is heavy with cold and hot appetizers, and that's where we decide to linger.

But tzatziki ($7.95) — the combination of yogurt, cucumber, dill and garlic — lacks the usual tartness of Greek yogurt and seems to have been barely touched by garlic. It came with a basket of warm pita triangles. Dolmades ($6.95), grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, are fresh and just a bit lemony.

Hot appetizers start strong with gigantes ($7.95), giant white beans cooked in tomato and onion sauce. There is just enough sauce to complement the perfectly cooked beans. Char-grilled octopus ($13.95) is cooked to rubbery chewiness. Likewise, deep-fried calamari ($11.95) is also overcooked and chewy, though the batter seems to be nicely seasoned. A square of spinach pie known as spanakopita ($6.95) might once have been good, but it tastes cold and doughy, as if it had just been removed from the refrigerator and placed on our table.

Greek salad ($7.95 and $13.95) has all the requisite ingredients, but I've never understood why restaurants serve salads and then ask the customers to dress them. It's near impossible once the salad has been placed on a platter to get the oil-to-vinegar ratio just right.

We do the Greek restaurant tourist thing and order the flaming cheese known as saganaki ($9.95). Our waiter does an admirable job with his "Opa!" and the saganaki tastes wonderful. But by this point, we've run out of pita bread, and it takes 10 minutes to get more. Saganaki without bread is like fried eggs without toast.

Overall, service is clumsy. The bus staff awkwardly replaces the flatware. We watch as one young man painstakingly stacks dishes on a corner of the table to make way for clean ones. Our waiter is fine, but we're only as good as the people who support us.

Shrimp Mykonos ($21.95) in tomato ouzo sauce is a favorite, but the accompanying orzo tastes as if it had been sitting around since lunchtime. Lamb chops ($25.95) come five to an order, and two of them are very good. But the thinner chops are overcooked and tough. Tender roast chicken ($13.95) starts with a marinade of olive oil, lemon and oregano, and is served with roasted potatoes.

Because our spinach pie had been so disappointing, we decide to forgo dessert. One phyllo mishap is enough for one dinner.

All the elements are there for Estia to be a good restaurant. But until the kitchen focuses on the details, it's merely a fair one.

jtanasychuk@tribune.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.

Estia

Royal Palm Place, 507 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton

561-245-8885, EstiaGreekTaverna.com

Cuisine: Greek

Cost: Moderate

Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday

Reservations: Suggested

Credit cards: AE, MC, V

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Noisy inside during weekend belly-dancing shows

Outside smoking: Yes

For kids: Highchairs, menu

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Free lot or valet